Jon Huntsman, President Obama's former ambassador to China and the Republican governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, formally announced his candidacy Tuesday for his party's presidential nomination. Huntsman has been drawing only modest support in polls so far, but he has already won "the magazine profile primary," says CNN's Peter Hamby. The latest in a string of lengthy articles on his prospects: A 6,000 word piece by Matt Bai in The New York Times Magazine looking at Huntsman's nascent campaign. Here, four takeaways from Bai's profile:
1. Huntsman evokes memories of John McCain's 2000 campaign
Huntsman invoked Ronald Reagan in announcing his candidacy, but his aides think he has the appeal John McCain had in his 2000 presidential bid. Strategist John Weaver, a former McCain aide, says Hunstman avoids being "doctrinaire," as McCain did, and "could embody the same kind of bigness." Huntsman's tone also recalls McCain's tendency to "treat the press as a core constituency," says Greg Marx in the Columbia Journalism Review. But, says Bai, Huntsman lacks McCain's war-hero biography and "mythological presence," "unless you count defying his parents and dropping out of high school to play keyboards for a band called Wizard."
2. Huntsman doesn't call himself a conservative
At a recent press conference in New Hampshire, Huntsman "bizarrely" refused to describe himself as a conservative, says Bai. "Huntsman said he didn't like political labels, but if he had to pick one, he considered himself a 'pragmatic problem-solver.'" He also declined to bash Obama. Yes, "Huntsman is a moderate in an era when Republicans don't like moderates," says Steve Benen in Washington Monthly. He may try to reinvent himself, but "when push comes to shove, what are the chances Republican voters will nominate a former member of Obama's team who doesn’t even want to describe himself as conservative?"
3. He's not used to this level of politicking
Huntsman, "an avid motorcyclist and a lover of perilous sports," compares his early campaign appearances in New Hampshire to bungee jumping. "You put on the bungee-jumping cord, and you're standing on the bridge and you leap," he tells Bai. "And you begin to sail. You begin to fall. And whether or not that string is going to catch you before you hit bottom, whether or not you're going to get through the night or get creamed, is an unknown." After his first few events in the Granite State, Huntsman said he was pleased that voters weren't laughing him "out of the room." That isn't "a terribly high standard to set for the viability of a presidential campaign," says Bai. "But if you're a Republican in 2012, it's enough to make you believe" that you stand a chance.
4. He may be positioning himself for 2016
Hunstman's service in the Obama administration might hurt him. He sent "warm letters" to the president, even calling him a "remarkable leader," Bai says. And his policy positions won't necessarily help among primary voters. "Huntsman believes in the science of climate change, and he favors civil unions for gay couples and leniency for the children of immigrants." In early polls, only 35 percent of right-leaning voters had even heard of Huntsman—"and that was the good news," says Bai. "Of those who said they had heard of him, 36 percent said there was no chance he'd win their vote." So why is Hunstman in the 2012 race? A run now lets him "re-establish his credentials" as a true GOPer and "if he performs even respectably, then he might be able to position himself as the logical next choice should Obama be re-elected — in other words, the Mitt Romney of 2016."